Residents: Don’t move the ‘Zac’ center

Posted: Wednesday, January 05, 2011

 Residents seem to be supportive of the long-range Willoughby District Land Use plan except for one thing: Don’t touch the Zac Gordon Youth Center.

Several people gave emotional testimony at the Parks and Recreation Committee meeting, following a presentation by Sheinberg Associates and Kittelson Associates representatives.

The Willoughby District Land Use plan is taking a look at how the city wants that area to be developed in the next 20-30 years. The plan’s vision is to further expand that area as a cultural arts location and make it more accessible, visually appealing and useful.

Heather Marlow, Lands and Resources manager, gave an overview after public testimony as to why moving the Zac is even being discussed. She drew a rough map of the district, showing the old state public safety building, the state Mental Health Trust development, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, Centennial Hall, the State Archives Building, State Office Building and the Zac.

The Mental Health Trust wants to put a parking lot at the old public safety site, but that isn’t big enough. What will be there, if plans go through, is a four-to-five-story parking garage. The JACC, Marlow explained, has a short lifespan and the building will be demolished and rebuilt — another large building. There also are plans to expand Centennial Hall. The State Archives Building will go down. The Library Archives Museum Project will go up not very far away. All of this, Marlow said, will completely overshadow the Zac in its small building.

“I got quite concerned what was going to happen with Zac Gordon, a single story next to four-to-five levels of parking and four-to-five story buildings,” Marlow said. “It becomes visually isolated and the connections to it. I thought about what Zac Gordon was trying to accomplish. He wanted you to be front and center between the State Office Building and state museum. It was very purposeful. What we’re trying to do now is fast-forward to when all of these developments take place.”

Marlow said the point of looking at alternative locations and options for Zac Gordon is to make sure it still serves the youth the way he envisioned, but also looking at what is best for everyone.

Several residents made comments prior to Marlow about leaving the Zac where it’s at.

“I think the Willoughby District plan is great,” said Kristi West. “I’m very concerned about us saying we’re going to move the Zac Gordon center. We just did a big remodel.”

West said she was concerned the Rasmussen Foundation, which provided a significant portion of funds for the remodel, would feel like the city didn’t value their funds if they demolish the Zac. She also didn’t want to see a gap in services.

Another woman, who said she knew Zac Gordon, said he taught her to play pool there. Her children used the facility and her grandchildren use it now. She said in the history of Juneau, if a building is taken out there aren’t funds available to build on what was offered.

Rosemary Hagen, who is the vice-chairwoman of the pro-development Alaska Committee, said she had mixed feelings about the plan because she also works with Catholic Community Services, which collaborates extensively with the Zac Gordon Youth Center. She said she also felt it should not move.

Donnie Burris and her husband spoke in favor of the Zac as well. The couple moved to Juneau after Hurricane Katrina and have been using the Zac for five years.

“This is a home for them,” Burris said of her children. “It’s more than just a building.”

PRAC member Chris Mertl said they are not necessarily promoting moving the Zac, and certainly not in the near future. However, he encouraged people to think about when the building reaches the end of its useful life in 20-30 years. He said he thought it would be great if the Zac could have a nice new building, still in the heart of the cultural center of Juneau.

As far as the rest of the district plan, PRAC members said they wanted to see more efficient transportation to downtown for non-downtown residents and they didn’t want to see more streets downtown, but better pedestrian access and flow.

To see preliminary drafts and mapping of the district, visit and select the “Willoughby District Plan” link.

The PRAC meeting was still ongoing at press time.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at

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